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Small Landlords Face Tenuous Future as Pandemic Rages On

Extended Eviction Moratorium Leaves Many Unable to Pay Their Bills

Second of a three-part series

Sometimes it’s forgotten that landlords remain knee-deep in efforts to avoid what many fear will be an eviction nightmare for millions of renters once federal moratoriums expire.

And while larger, corporate-funded landlords have fared considerably better during the pandemic, mom-and-pop landlords have been devastated as many of their tenants have been living rent-free for anywhere from six months to a year.

Kamal Nawash, a D.C. attorney who specializes in tenant-landlord issues, warned there’s a reckoning coming when the moratorium, slated to end in June before being extended to August and most recently October by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), comes to an end.

“I’m expecting a flood of cases after people have lived for the last 12 months or more without paying rent,” he said. “Smaller landlords have been harder hit than tenants and face high mortgages, real estate taxes and the cost of utilities.”

“They could get relief from the courts. Still, I know some who, if not for the moratorium on foreclosures, would face foreclosure by their banks.”

“We’re flooded with calls from both landlords and tenants — tenants who know the clock is ticking, the hour is coming — who didn’t pay rent because of the uncertainty of the times. Some wanted to hold onto money,” Nawash said.

RELATED: An Eviction Tsunami is Approaching D.C. and Few Seem Prepared

He pointed to the most recent decision issued by the District’s officials which orders landlords to provide a 12-month payment plan for tenants in arrears once the moratorium ends. Prior to the pandemic, tenants had 30 days to comply with unpaid balances once landlords filed a notice to quit or face eviction.

“Many of the buildings in D.C. are owned by large corporations so the rent revenue is just extra to subsidize their expenses,” he said. “They aren’t in danger of foreclosure [like smaller landlords].”

The CDC-ordered eviction moratorium has fueled anxiety and fear from tenant advocates and landlords alike with both sides presenting their cases and voicing their concerns.

“Without this action by President Joe Biden, millions of renters could have lost their homes this winter,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “But extending the eviction moratorium is, on its own, insufficient to protect renters during the pandemic.”

She described the existing moratorium as flawed as some landlords have exploited loopholes to evict tenants despite the protections.

“No federal agency is enforcing the order’s penalties for unlawful evictions,” said Yentel, who signed a letter to President Biden along with about 2,000 national, state and local organizations calling for additional relief and enforcement.

RELATED: Long Before COVID-19, Blacks Disproportionately Faced an Eviction Crisis

Meanwhile, landlords struggling to pay the mortgages on their properties say they’re concerned that an extension of the eviction moratorium through the fall will result in more harm than good.

“Allocated rental assistance funds do not fully address the $70 billion in outstanding debt nor accruing debt moving forward and the industry cannot continue operation under these policies without disastrous harm to housing affordability,” said the National Multifamily Housing Council in a release.

Stephanie Bastek, a volunteer, organizer and board member with the DC Tenants Union said she and fellow organizers have been applying pressure to city government officials out of necessity.

“I’ve been organizing since 2017 with 32,000 formal judgments recorded in 2018 — the cost of housing and the unavailability of quality and affordable housing was a problem before [the pandemic],” she said. “Fortunately, there have been zero legal evictions this past year.”

“Landlords are not void of compassion. But people aren’t paying their rent because they’re not working. Someone I know took out a $10,000 loan to pay their rent. And while higher-income jobs are coming back, low-income jobs aren’t,” she said.

The CDC estimates that as many as 40 million renters in the U.S. remain at risk of eviction with the numbers possibly as high as 60 million.

Meanwhile, experts familiar with evictions like Emily Benfer and Emily Coffey of the Shriver Center for Law and Justice believe evictions could lead to homelessness, job loss, health disparities, disruption in children’s education and greater poverty. They note that “having an eviction record makes it nearly impossible to rent safe and decent housing in the future.”

One Woodner Tenant Union organizer who spoke on condition of anonymity said he and his colleagues recently conducted a door-to-door survey to gauge the scope of the problem.

“About 30 percent, that’s close to 300, of the tenants we surveyed are behind on rent,” the organizer said. “Meanwhile nearly 300 units are vacant while 800 units are occupied. Money owed ranges in scope from $0-$19,000. That’s scary for a lot of people. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program score in our zip code is $5000. We need more help from the city,” the organizer said.

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